Victim of silent killer

Stephen Gray
Stephen Gray

HARRY and Katie Gray face a future without their dad after his life was cruelly claimed by a “forgotten cancer” at just 44.

The two youngsters, aged nine and six, were just babies when Stephen Gray was struck down with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related illness that kills hundreds of people every year.

The devastating disease also claimed the life of Stephen’s dad, also called Harry, just five years earlier when he was 67.

The grieving family from the Clavering area of Hartlepool set up the Harry and Stephen Gray Mesothelioma Snowdrop Memorial Fund in their memory to raise awareness and cash to tackle the cancer shortly after Stephen died.

But they say no-one is listening to their appeals for help despite the illness being a “ticking timebomb” in Hartlepool due to the town’s industrial heritage.

Harry’s daughter – Stephen’s sister Carole Orton, 44, an auxillary nurse – said: “We just don’t get the support here. It’s like people don’t want to talk about it.

“People do a lot for the hospice or for breast cancer, but they seem to ignore this disease that’s killing more and more people.

“Hartlepool is an industrial area. Lots of people here have worked with asbestos. Up in Newcastle they have raised a million pounds and everyone talks about it, but down here it’s pushed to one side. That needs to change.”

The family is urging people to help fund research into the illness and support those fighting it.

They have so far raised around £15,000, but they say the charity is not being well supported compared to other parts of the country and they have even had to cancel fundraising nights due to a lack of interest.

Harry senior’s widow, Margaret, 74, says she doesn’t want to see more lives ruined by the disease, or children growing up without parents.

She said Stephen’s partner, Dianne Hurst, 39, keeps his memory alive with the children, but they still face a future without a dad.

Margaret told the Hartlepool Mail: “Harry is Stephen’s double. He has the same mannerisms and everything. People Stephen worked with come up to him and say ‘I can see who you belong to’.

“Katie talks about her daddy all of the time and she was only months old when he died.

“Stephen is kept alive in them and is a big part of their lives, but they deserve to have a dad and they would if it wasn’t for asbestos.”

The devastating effects of asbestos fibres is a fairly recent discovery, meaning thousands of men and women have been exposed to the material without knowing in their workplaces.

Harry senior came into contact with asbestos while working as a lagger on the docks, and his son, who died in 2007, worked in power stations where the substance was widely used on pipes.

Margaret said her husband told her stories of workers rolling up white asbestos into balls and throwing it at each other like snowballs, not realising at the time they were playing with their futures.

Margaret, who is also mum to Billy, 55, Kenneth, 54, and 51-year-old Alan, added: “No-one knew then, but it has killed so many people.

“There are people walking round now who will be effected by it one day. It’s a timebomb.

“It can erupt in people after all of these years. Stephen didn’t even work with asbestos, just in places where a lot of it was.

“All of my sons have worked in such places and it is always in the back of my mind.

“It could be lying dormant in them, and it could be in me because women have died from washing work clothes or hugging their husbands when they get home.

“I know quite a few people who have lost someone through asbestos. People need to be aware of just how bad it is.”

l Anyone who wishes to support the family’s fund can contact Margaret on (01429) 261661.